Ministry – Relapse (2012)

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Music

In 2008, when Al Jourgensen announced that the legendary Ministry was calling it quits, this reviewer was a little pissed off. Sure, I was being selfish, but it just felt to me like the grandfather of electro/industrial/rock was finally hitting stride. They had been around since 1981, but the metal-heavy sound of 2004’s Houses of the Molé and 2006’s Rio Grande Blood had taken the band to a new, more enjoyable level (at least for me). Even 2007’s The Last Sucker was another step in the right direction – although not as “metal” – so you can imagine the dismay of fans when Al called it quits.

Since then there has been a few blips on the radar. There was a live album, and a couple of “cover song” albums from the band – but it just wasn’t enough to turn this frown upside-down. Now, I realize that bands come and go. It’s all part of the world of rock and fucking roll, but there was something different about Ministry that made it a little harder to swallow. Jourgensen has (and always will) been the centerpiece of the band, and there was never really a good reason given as to why he was hanging it up. In fact, as one of the more politically charged artists of his time, I thought that the last four or five years have needed a voice like his to wash away all the bullshit and get to the point of what is wrong with America. Well… apparently so did he.

Just when we needed it the most, Ministry has reunited for Relapse, a ten-track kick in the rocks of new material long overdue. The reunion lineup features on-again/off-again members Mike Scaccia and Tommy Victor both on guitar, Aaron Rossi on drums, John Bechdel on keyboards and Tony Campos on bass – but let’s be real: it’s all about “Big Al.” The rest of the guys will continue the revolving door practice the band has always had, but as long as Jourgensen is writing – I’m listening…

With George Bush and his band of republican merry men no longer fucking things up, I was interested to see who and what was going to get called out on Relapse. The opening track – “Ghouldiggers” – answered that almost immediately, as Al has his finger pointed sharply at the recording label industry. A pseudo-phone call to his manager is all you really need to understand lyrically, and I wouldn’t blame you for missing the message completely, as the music is absolutely blistering throughout. The chorus rings out “I’m not dead yet!!” and Al’s not kidding…

“Double Tap” takes one last sucker punch at the Bush administration, with it’s anti-war sentiment and tongue-in-cheek usage of middle eastern instrumentation. Again, the delivery is fast and ferocious with the guitars and drums sounding ten times louder than possible. When Ministry is finally dead and buried, this is what the world will miss – as no one pounds it down your throat quite the same.

If crushing walls of noise can send a softer message, such is the case in “Freefall,” a very introspective piece (believe it or not) revolving around Jourgensen’s drug addictions over the years. Pissing away money on drugs and alcohol and spiraling into chaos is pretty normal these days for rock musicians, but maybe – just maybe – Al has enough of an eye on it to avert the tragedies that fell upon many other rockers taken from us far too early.

A bass-heavy intro open “Kleptocracy” which, while not specifically pointed at any one person, continues the legacy of anti-government anthems. Al asks the listener to fight back against the system that is led by liars and theives. Poignant overdubs and scorching solos deliver the message loud and clear – but Jourgensen throws in a few emphatic “fuck you’s” to drive it home.

After two cover albums, I didn’t think we’d get a cover track on Relapse, but after scrolling down the playlist, I had a hunch that “United Forces” was bound to be a rendition of the 1985 song from thrash-masters Stormtroopers of Death. And I was right. Ministry have always had the inane ability to pick the perfect songs to cover, and this is no exception. It’s loud, it’s charged, and it’s Ministry ripping the skin of another classic and wearing it as a cape.

“99 Percenters” has just been released to radio, and takes its swings at the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Unfortunately, the track seemed a bit safe both musically and lyrically. I expected Al to tear this topic to shreds, but instead the song seems to just drift along without saying a ton. After multiple listens, the infectiousness grew on me a bit, but there is definitely better tracks to be heard on this album. Surprising that they are re-introducing themselves to the world with perhaps the weakest track on the disc, but who am I to judge?

A heavy guitar line slices through “Relapse,” which mentions everything from Vietnam, the forthcoming non-apocalypse of 2012, more drinkin’ and druggin’, and cynically addresses the the “fuck it all” attitude a lot of people take when it comes to these issues. I’m not sure if Al is telling us to give up or to get our shit together, but I think that’s the whole point behind it. Musically, it is solid but not astounding – but again, i think that was kind of the point as well.

For my money, there has been enough drug reference in the album already, but Al keeps the theme recurring with “Weekend Warrior.” A party anthem from Ministry? Apparently so, although these type of tracks seem more at place with the thrash metal scene. In fact, I had to make sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped ahead to the new Municipal Waste CD (who’s review is coming soon). It’s a pretty groovy track, but I would have liked something to think about. I am already schooled in the fine art of partying hard.

I’m not sure I’m crazy about the title of “Git Up Get Out ‘N Vote,” but I’m sure down with the simplistic message. The basic principal of our government is the ability to elect by popular demand, and unfortunately far too few actually exercise their right to have their voice heard. Does it come of a little MTV-ish? Of course it does. But at least Jourgensen is trying to light a fire under the listeners ass. Much like Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, the time has come for rockers to do their part to get the kids into the polling places – so kudos to Al. Next time you need a song title, though, I’d be more than willing to help…

The album closes out with “Bloodlust” – and fans of the older Ministry will have something to feast on. It stays pretty heavy, but also “relapses” back to a more electro, less polished sound the band played almost exclusively in the late 80s/early 90s. It packs just enough voltage to fit in here, but not by much. Still a great track in every right, though.

Overall, the album is a welcome return – but I’m pretty sure I’ll be listening to the first five tracks a lot more than the last five. What I continue to (after multiple listens) struggle with is how “dumbed down” some of it is. When Jourgensen REALLY speaks his mind, he is one of the most interesting, thought-provoking personalities in music – but there wasn’t enough of that here for me. The music itself is awesome, and for those that never really got into dissecting Al’s lyrics it is bound to be considered one of the band’s stronger efforts.

For me, though, it was missing that intelligence at times that drove me to the band in the first place. Couple that with the over-indulgence of drug topic, and I was left only slightly smiling. But then again, I am probably the one percent…

7/10

Tracklist:
1. Ghouldiggers
2. Double Tap
3. Freefall
4. Kleptocracy
5. United Forces
6. 99 Percenters
7. Relapse
8. Weekend Warrior
9. Git Up Get Out ‘N Vote
10. Bloodlust
11. Relapse (Defibrillator Mix)

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